More than 15 years after he won his first Cyclocross World Cup race and nabbed his first elite medal at ‘cross Worlds, Zdeněk Štybar officially called it a career this past weekend at Tabor Worlds in his home country of Czechia, also known as the Czech Republic. It was a career that saw him stand atop podiums across disciplines in a way that seems all too common now, in the age of Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert, and Tom Pidcock, but it was more of the exception than the rule back when Štybar made the crossover (pun only partially intended).
Unlike multi-disciplinary predecessors like Roger De Vlaeminck, Adrie van der Poel, and Marianne Vos, Štybar was very much a ‘cross-focused star only until he decided to broaden his horizons rather than a dual-sport dynamo from the jump. When he did ultimately move into the WorldTour peloton, it would be an impressive run lasting 13 years, in which he would ultimately see several other CX talents take a similar path.
As the 38-year-old Czech star rides off into the sunset, we decided to bid him a fond, photo-filled farewell.
It was more than 20 years ago that Štybar emerged onto the radars of some fans when he nabbed a bronze medal in the juniors race at Cyclocross Worlds all the way back in 2002. He would go on to an under-23 world title two years later, and from there, he began to build his stellar résumé.
He broke into the elite ranks with style, taking a World Cup win at Kalmthout in 2007, and from that point on, he was almost constantly in the mix to win big races.
It wasn’t long after that Štybar would embark on his grand adventure into the WorldTour peloton on the road. As we’ve mentioned, he would certainly not be the first big cyclocross name to find success in the road peloton – but nor was his decision to cross over an entirely obvious one. He was already a 26-year-old ‘cross star by the time he made the conscious decision to refocus on road racing, and many cyclocross luminaries of the time – Niels Albert, Erwin Vercken, and of course Sven Nys – chose to stay within the confines of veldrijden.
Understandably, there was a lot of hype around Štybar’s venture at the time.
He rode a light road program at the Continental level with Fidea throughout his early racing career, but it was in 2011 that he took a major step forward as a roadie when he joined QuickStep on the heels of his second elite CX world title. His first road season was a quiet one without any pro wins, but it would only take so long for his talents to show themselves. He won a stage at the Four Days of Dunkirk in 2012 before things really took off in 2013.
The cobbles of Paris-Roubaix seemed like a natural fit for his talents and he wasted no time in showing those talents off on his debut there in 2013. A 28-year-old Štybar survived deep into the always grueling Monument to get into what would ultimately be the winning move with Fabian Cancellara and Sep Vanmarcke inside the final 20 km.
A collision with someone standing along the road, however, led to him being dropped, and he had to settle for sixth on the day.
He would not let it ruin his season. A few months later, he stormed to his first WorldTour wins at the Eneco Tour, taking two stages and the overall, heralding his arrival as a bona fide contender on the road.
All told, his 2013 season confirmed that he did indeed have the chops to hang with the best on the road, and shortly thereafter, he put his proverbial cyclocross hat back on in emphatic fashion, making a handful of starts before heading to Worlds, where he engaged in a fierce battle with the legendary Sven Nys.
In an instant-classic, back and forth race that saw numerous attacks and crashes, Štybar would win the duel, taking his third career title as he denied Nys in Hoogerheide.
Over the next several years, Štybar went through some high highs and some low lows. He crashed heavily at the 2014 Eneco Tour, suffering major facial injuries, but he recovered to win that year’s Binche-Chimany-Binche and then enjoyed a banner year in 2015, winning Strade Bianche and taking runner-up honors at E3 Harelbeke and Roubaix before he achieved a career highlight: a stage win at the Tour de France.
In a crash-marred uphill finale on the Tour’s sixth stage into Le Havre, Štybar shot off the front and held on to take the win.
Over the ensuing seasons, Štybar developed into a veteran presence on a QuickStep team that enjoyed an impressive run of years in the Classics. While delivering respectable results of his own, Štybar was often a foil for others like Niki Terpstra or Philippe Gilbert, but after several years of faithful teamwork and solid results, he scored several big results of his own in 2019, one of his finest seasons.
At the ensuing edition of Paris-Roubaix a few weeks later, Gilbert would score the win for QuickStep with Štybar one of three other team members inside the top 10. Though a Monument win would ultimately elude Štybar himself, his 2019 campaign was a testament to the talent that he had shown in flashes throughout his ‘cross and road career.
As Štybar entered the twilight years of his time in the pro peloton, he saw the rise of superstars like Van der Poel and Van Aert, who followed a similar career trajectory as Štybar had once done while ultimately soaring to greater heights. By that point, Štybar was serving as more of a road captain with QuickStep as Kasper Asgreen and other younger riders emerged to lead the team in the one-day races, but the Czech talent stuck with the Belgian squad through 2022 before riding on for one last road season with Jayco-AlUla.
It was a quieter campaign compared to some of his more successful years, but Štybar did land on the podium at the Hong Kong Cyclothon. Then it was onto a farewell cyclocross campaign, culminating in one last trip to Cyclocross Worlds on home turf. He was duly feted by the home crowds in Tabor as he ground his way through a muddy course to finish 31st.
With his final start in the rearview mirror, Zdeněk Štybar can hopefully look back on his career with satisfaction. After all, he is not only a three-time world ‘cross champ, but also a two-time Grand Tour stage victor, a winner of multiple major one-day races, and a perennial podium contender at the Monuments. All in all, it seems pretty deserving of a champagne celebration if you ask us.
Cheers to you, Zdeněk Štybar, for helping to light the way for this latest generation of ‘cross crossover stars and giving us more than a decade of entertainment on a wide variety of terrains.
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